Social Dreaming versus Ullman's Experiential Dream Groups

In 1982, Dr. Gordon Lawrence presented a socio-centric view to dreams called Social Dreaming (SD) at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations in London. It considers dreams social in origin.

The Matrix instead of a group

To emphasize the special nature of SD gatherings, Lawrence discarded the group concept, replacing it with a matrix, which is a looser structure than a group, even physically; the participants’ seats are rearranged to minimize any group forming.

Participants are, in a way, alone in a group. They form a Social Dreaming Matrix (SDM).

This matrix of participants is weaving a web of feelings and thoughts, associating freely from anyone’s dreams, amplifying them with their own contributions: but, no one is allowed to interpret or to individualize them as belonging to any single person.

SD does not wish to discover one central meaning, seeing dreams instead as elements scattering through space, creating a dynamic collage. The dream is not given a name or a definition, but is sent to float in an open, infinite space. All shared dreams create an atmosphere where individual dreams are like waves forming a social sea of dreams. SD concentrates on this sea, on dreams and not dreamers. When dreams are not attached to individuals, it is easier to see how dreams holistically reflect the general state of the whole society. SD thus avoids as much as possible any group dynamics, interpretations, or possibilities where the narcissism of individuals could disturb the collective image dreams are reflecting.

SD reaches for the inner, unconscious, infinite world of the psyche. Lawrence sees it as a methodology that is congruent with these unconscious processes and which does not seek refuge in conscious, unintentionally defensive reductionist ratiocination. SD succeeds in avoiding many traps of over-psychiatrization and over-pathologization of dreams. It is successful in de-pathologizing dreams, but the next step is where SDM for the most part loses just what it is seeking. By avoiding an individual-centered approach, it certainly has a greater chance of creating contact with the power field of infinity, but this field largely remains unfocused.

Focusing the sunshine

Compared with the group process developed by prof. Montague Ullman, SDM brings forth the sunshine but does not focus it, thus creating a warm but unfocused atmosphere. An Ullman-type group works like a parabolic receiver or a magnifying glass, reflecting the energy of the sun onto one burning point who is the dreamer, who with the help of this additional energy charge is then able to drill through the surface of the waking state deeper than SDM, acting as a bridge to the unknown and as a medium amplified by the group’s contribution. This concentrated, intensive energy stream may be strong enough to advance deeper, even to transpersonal dimensions. The deepest experiences are always individual ones.



Beyond methodologies 

Both SDM and the Ullman process can be ruined by unenlightened people. Ullman-type endeavor may remain only at an ordinary, superficial, semi-psychiatric level. SD, instead, is always doomed to lose the most poignant core of dreams. In spite of this, SD is a valuable reminder of social, common dimensions of dreams, because this fact is far too obscure in our society of worshipping the individual and his egocentricity. Both methods are only methodological frames which are constructed to allow dreams to address our waking state as unconstrained and constructively as possible, but the real action always takes place only in individual human souls beyond any methodologies.

(More detailed treat of this topic is found on pages 32-34 of my book Understanding Dreams - The Gateway to Dreams Without Dream Interpretation)